Young people find a haven in Bermuda College’s Village
LGBTTQQIAAP: Based on her conversations with Bermuda College students, Kennita Perry felt there were a lot of people who identified with the letters, or had questions about the letters, or misunderstood the letters.
The Village is a haven for all of them.
“I had students that either were coming out to me or were tiptoeing around something that was important to them,” said Ms Perry, a counsellor at the Stonington campus. “I was like this is something that we should be offering – a safe space for students.”
In 2017 she made a proposal to her supervisor, who insisted that any initiative had to be student-led. Confident she was “absolutely 100 per cent fully supported” by the College, Ms Perry then sent out an e-mail to gauge interest.
“I was a little shaky because that was in a climate where people were just starting to talk about LGBTQ+ issues and there was a lot of flak, a lot of discussion. You could see that people were polarised at that time,” she said.
“If someone wanted to start a group in 2021 I think it would be a little bit easier because this discussion has now been happening for a few years. But at that time some people were very adamant that a person was bad or was wrong for being who they were, and I knew that was not true. Everyone has the right to feel safe and to be who they are. Everyone.”
Not everyone agreed. Most of the objections were on religious grounds. Members of the Village decided that education was the best way forward. Taj Donville-Outerbridge, now an executive member of Bermuda Pride, led the drive, creating a booklet that “was distributed to the staff and those who were interested”.
“We were getting a lot of requests about almost basic stuff [such as] what the LGBTQ+ terms stood for,” he said. “Out of that came the need for some sort of resource that we could share. We couldn’t really find one that encompassed everything we needed so we created one. And in that booklet we had some basic terms: gay, lesbian, asexual, pansexual and so on.”
The group also made clear there were certain things that offended them.
Said Mr Donville-Outerbridge: “People would say, are you sure you want to be gay? They said they would pray for [us]. And it often came from counsellors at our high schools. So that’s why we created this resource specifically because it came from people who were supposed to be there to guide us and instead they were trying to change our minds.”
Before the pandemic, the roughly ten members of The Village held “at least one meeting a week”. Open to any and everyone, the gatherings were set at 4pm so high school students could also attend.
“I’m a counsellor and so I do it as almost like a psychotherapy group in a sense because you just don’t know what’s going to come out,” Ms Perry said. “I create a safe space within a safe space but they decide what they’re going to talk about.
“There were some who just wanted to be part of the group, just to be in a place where they could be themselves, talk about what’s important to them that they’re not really able to talk about anywhere else.”
Advocacy is a big role The Village has taken on. In 2018, to celebrate National Coming Out Day on October 11, the Bermuda College community was invited to put rainbow-coloured placards at their door.
The idea, Ms Perry said, was so that those who wanted could “let students know that they are welcome – regardless of how they identify”.
“It [wasn’t] just about their sexual or gender identity it was also about accessibility,” she said, explaining the cards also showed support for people in wheelchairs, people who were hearing-impaired.
“I can say that the majority of faculty – not the majority of the campus – probably about 60 per cent, and that was a very surprisingly high number of people, put this on their door.
“That to me was advocacy. That is helping others to show that they are willing to provide a safe space. It’s not because everyone agrees. Some people do not. But many have found that they can set aside their personal beliefs, especially because we are an academic institution and this is the place where people should be able to express who they are.”
Sophia Tessitore, a member of The Village’s executive team, said the group was something many of her peers had longed for.
“I feel that the attitude, in the general sense, towards the LGBT community has changed a lot over the last few years. I remember back when I was in primary school, in the early 2000s, it was super taboo. Nobody talked about it. It’s not until the past five years or so that it’s become more common and more accepted to be LGBT. I think in my generation at least, the attitude is ‘cool, whatever, that’s who people are’. You have a few people who are homophobic of course but for the most part it’s – whatever.
“But back when I was growing up everyone didn’t feel that way. There was the religious aspect – people were very much against it or thought it was gross. That has definitely changed but The Village is still very important. It’s very hard to find a safe space where you know you’re going to be accepted without a doubt.”
For young people who are “supportive of the cause” it’s an opportunity to “have discussions about LGBTQ issues from a political aspect, from a personal aspect”.
“I’ve noticed in classroom settings it’s shut down a lot,” Ms Tessitore said. “Coming from a public high school, it was such a conservative environment. You weren’t allowed to have any sort of conversation about LGBTQ issues and you had teachers who were homophobic. I remember a teacher I spoke to wanted to start a LGBT club and the principal was like no, you can’t do that. So it just shut down the conversation. They don’t want to stir the pot. So I think it’s really good to have that here.”
The 2019 Pride celebration was a milestone as it showed just how much more accepting Bermuda had become. A year later, the coronavirus pandemic has limited meetings and cancelled large-scale events.
“Seeing all those people there was really amazing,” Ms Tessitore said. “There were so many people from so many different walks of life. It was really comforting. Besides certain places on the internet and my friend group and other niche groups it seems like there aren’t really a lot of supportive people but this – what was it like 6,000 people there? Front Street was all lined up with people marching in support. That was really great. I think it definitely helped people become more confident and it made people realise it’s not the end of the world. It’s not going to burn.
“[Covid-19] just made it difficult to do the outreach and do the community events that we like to do. It’s definitely stalled some of the progress we could have made. It’s definitely stopped the progression of the group. We still try to do events and we still try to plan but I feel like the great thing about The Village is that it’s in person, that it’s very personal. So it’s hard to do online things. I don’t feel like it has as much of an impact as an in-person event unfortunately.”
The plan is to “create whatever needs to be created” for The Village to thrive at the start of the school term in autumn, Ms Perry said.
The Village is on the list of “trailblazing queer people and groups” being honoured by Bermuda Pride this year. Follow @bermudapride on Instagram. To contact The Village: email@example.com
Lesbian: A woman attracted only to other women.
Gay: A man attracted only to other men but also used to describe people attracted to the same sex.
Bisexual: Anyone attracted to more than one sex/gender.
Transgender: A person whose gender identity differs from birth.
Transsexual: People who, with medical assistance, change their gender permanently.
Queer: People who don't identify as male, female, gay or straight and do not wish to label themselves by their sex acts.
Questioning: Someone who is unsure about or exploring their sexual/gender identity.
Intersex: Someone whose body is neither fully male or female.
Ally: Someone who is straight but supports the LGBTTQQIAAP community.
Asexual: People who are not sexually attracted to any gender.
Pansexual: Someone whose sexual attraction is based on personality. They may be gender fluid.